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Gunsmoke is an American radio and television Western drama series created by director Norman Macdonnell and writer John Meston. The stories take place in and around Dodge City, Kansas, during the settlement of the American West. The central character is lawman Marshal Matt Dillon, played by William Conrad on radio and James Arness on television. When aired in the United Kingdom, the television series was initially titled Gun Law, [1] later reverting to Gunsmoke. [2]


The radio series ran from 1952 to 1961. John Dunning wrote that among radio drama enthusiasts, "Gunsmoke is routinely placed among the best shows of any kind and any time." [3] The television series ran for 20 seasons from 1955 to 1975, and lasted for 635 episodes. At the end of its run in 1975, Los Angeles Times columnist Cecil Smith wrote: "Gunsmoke was the dramatization of the American epic legend of the west. Our own Iliad and Odyssey, created from standard elements of the dime novel and the pulp Western as romanticized by [Ned] Buntline, [Bret] Harte, and [Mark] Twain. It was ever the stuff of legend." [4]

Radio series (1952–1961)

Publicity photo from Gunsmoke's radio version (photo from 1954)
Genre Western
Running time30 minutes
Country of originUnited States
TV adaptations Gunsmoke
Starring William Conrad
Parley Baer
Howard McNear
Georgia Ellis
AnnouncerGeorge Walsh
Created by Norman Macdonnell
John Meston
Produced byNorman Macdonnell
Original releaseApril 26, 1952 (1952-04-26) – June 18, 1961 (1961-06-18)
No. of series9
No. of episodes480
Audio formatMonaural

In the late 1940s, CBS chairman William S. Paley, a fan of the Philip Marlowe radio series, asked his programming chief, Hubell Robinson, to develop a hardboiled Western series, a show about a "Philip Marlowe of the Old West". Robinson instructed his West Coast CBS Vice President, Harry Ackerman, who had developed the Philip Marlowe series, to take on the task. [5]

Ackerman and his scriptwriters, Mort Fine and David Friedkin, created an audition script called "Mark Dillon Goes to Gouge Eye" based on one of their Michael Shayne radio scripts, "The Case of the Crooked Wheel" from the summer of 1948. Two versions were recorded. The first, recorded in June 1949, was very much like a hardboiled detective series and starred Michael Rye (credited as Rye Billsbury) as Dillon; [6] [5] the second, recorded in July 1949, starred Straight Arrow actor Howard Culver in a more Western, lighter version of the same script. [7] [8] CBS liked the Culver version better, and Ackerman was told to proceed.

A complication arose, though; Culver's contract as the star of Straight Arrow would not allow him to do another Western series. The project was shelved for three years, when producer Norman Macdonnell and writer John Meston discovered it while creating an adult Western series of their own. [9]

Macdonnell and Meston wanted to create a radio Western for adults, in contrast to the prevailing juvenile fare such as The Lone Ranger and The Cisco Kid.Gunsmoke was set in Dodge City, Kansas, during the thriving cattle days of the 1870s. Dunning [10] notes, "The show drew critical acclaim for unprecedented realism."

Radio cast and character biographies

The radio series first aired on CBS on April 26, 1952 with the episode "Billy the Kid", written by Walter Newman, and ended on June 18, 1961. The show stars William Conrad as Marshal Matt Dillon, Howard McNear as Doc Charles Adams, Georgia Ellis as Kitty Russell, and Parley Baer as Dillon's assistant, Chester Wesley Proudfoot.

Matt Dillon

William Conrad in 1952, when Matt Dillon was created on radio William Conrad 1952.JPG
William Conrad in 1952, when Matt Dillon was created on radio

Matt Dillon was played on radio by William Conrad and on TV by James Arness. Two versions of the same pilot episode titled "Mark Dillon Goes to Gouge Eye" were produced with Rye Billsbury and Howard Culver playing Marshal "Mark" Dillon as the lead, not yet played by Conrad. Conrad was one of the last actors to audition for the role of Marshal Dillon. With a resonantly powerful and distinctive voice, Conrad was already one of radio's busiest actors. Though Meston championed him, Macdonnell thought Conrad might be overexposed. During his audition, however, Conrad won over Macdonnell after reading only a few lines. Dillon, as portrayed by Conrad, was a lonely, isolated man, toughened by a hard life. Macdonnell later claimed, "Much of Matt Dillon's character grew out of Bill Conrad." [11]

Meston relished the upending of cherished Western fiction clichés and felt that few Westerns gave any inkling of how brutal the Old West was in reality. Many episodes were based on man's cruelty to man and woman, inasmuch as the prairie woman's life and the painful treatment of women as chattels were touched on well ahead of their time in most media. As originally pitched to CBS executives, this was to be an adult Western, not a grown-up Hopalong Cassidy.

Dunning writes that Meston was especially disgusted by the archetypal Western hero and set out "to destroy [that type of] character he loathed". In Meston's view, "Dillon was almost as scarred as the homicidal psychopaths who drifted into Dodge from all directions." [12]


Chester was played by Parley Baer on radio, and by Dennis Weaver on television. Chester's character had no surname until Baer ad libbed "Proudfoot" during an early rehearsal. Initial Gunsmoke scripts gave him no name at all; his lines were simply to be spoken by "Townsman". Again, Conrad's sense of what the program would be supervened, and Chester was born. Chester's middle initial was given as "W" in the June 15, 1958, episode "Old Flame", and a few episodes later, on the July 7, 1958, episode "Marshal Proudfoot", his middle name, and that of his 10 siblings, is revealed to be Wesley.

The amiable Waco expatriate was usually described as Dillon's "assistant", but in the December 13, 1952, episode "Post Martin", Dillon described Chester as Dillon's deputy. Contradicting this description, in the July 5, 1954, episode "Hank Prine" (episode 116, minute 3:02) Dillon corrects a prisoner who describes Chester as his "deputy", stating "Chester is not my deputy", though they both agree Chester acts like he is. Whatever his title, Chester was Dillon's foil, friend, partner, and in an episode in which Chester nearly dies ("Never Pester Chester"), Dillon allows that Chester was the only person he could trust.

The TV series changed the newly limping Chester's last name from Proudfoot to Goode. (Parley Baer had played the character with a whiny and slightly elderly voice: the limp given to the TV version gave him a similar element of weakness without having to cast an older actor.) Chester was played by Dennis Weaver, who went on to star in the NBC Mystery Movie rotating TV series entry of a police drama with a comedic touch, McCloud , in the early 1970s. Weaver, himself an impressive 6'2", often looked small alongside Arness' height at 6'7"; this could be partly due to the character Chester having a limp. Season two, episode 9 reveals that Chester was in the army. He would not have had the limp then, so probably got injured in the Civil War, not long ago, but long enough that he would have learned to live with the limp and virtually forget it.

Doc Adams

Howard McNear starred as Dr. Charles Adams in the radio series, with Milburn Stone portraying Dr. Galen Adams in the television version. In the radio series, "Doc" Adams was initially a self-interested and somewhat dark character with a predilection for constantly attempting to increase his revenue through the procurement of autopsy fees. However, McNear's performances steadily became more warm-hearted and sympathetic. Most notably, this transformation began during (and progressed steadily following) the July 1952 episode "Never Pester Chester", in which a physician with a more compassionate and devoted temperament is essential to the plotline when Chester is near-fatally injured by two trouble-making Texas drovers.

Doc Adams' backstory evokes a varied and experienced life: In some episodes, he had educational ties to Philadelphia; in others, he spent time as ship's doctor aboard the gambling boats that plied the Mississippi River, which provided a background for his knowledge of New Orleans (and acquaintance with Mark Twain). In the January 31, 1953, episode "Cavalcade", a fuller history is offered, though subsequent programs kept close listeners' heads spinning. In "Cavalcade", his real name is Calvin Moore, educated in Boston, and he practiced as a doctor for a year in Richmond, Virginia, where he fell in love with a beautiful young woman, who was also being courted by a wealthy young man named Roger Beauregard. Beauregard forced Doc into fighting a duel with him, resulting in Beauregard's being shot and killed. Though it was a fair duel, as a Yankee and an outsider, Doc was forced to flee. The young woman fled after him and they were married in St. Louis, but two months later, she died of typhus.

Doc wandered throughout the territories until he settled in Dodge City 17 years later under the name of "Charles Adams". The Adams moniker was another Conrad invention, borrowing the surname from cartoonist Charles Addams as a testament to Doc's initially ghoulish comportment.

Miss Kitty

Kitty was played by actress Georgia Ellis on radio, and by Amanda Blake on TV. While Ellis first appeared in the radio episode "Billy the Kid" (April 26, 1952) as "Francie Richards" - a former girlfriend of Matt Dillon's and the widow of a criminal - the character of "Miss Kitty" did not appear until the May 10, 1952, episode "Jaliscoe". Sometime in 1959, Ellis was billed as Georgia Hawkins instead of Georgia Ellis. Amanda Blake appeared in over 500 episodes of the television series, with her last being the April 1, 1974, episode titled, "The Disciple".

In the radio series, Kitty's profession was hinted at, but never explicit; in a 1953 interview with Time, Macdonnell declared, "Kitty is just someone Matt has to visit every once in a while". [12] The magazine observed that she is "obviously not selling chocolate bars". [13] An out-take from the program makes this hilariously obvious. [14] The television show first portrayed Kitty as a saloon employee (dance-hall girl/prostitute), then from season two, episode 36 ("Daddy-O"), as half-owner of the Long Branch Saloon.

Distinction from other radio Westerns

Photograph of the actual interior of the real-life Long Branch Saloon in Dodge City, Kansas, taken between 1870 and 1885 Long Branch Saloon interior.jpg
Photograph of the actual interior of the real-life Long Branch Saloon in Dodge City, Kansas, taken between 1870 and 1885

Gunsmoke was often a somber program, particularly in its early years. Dunning writes that Dillon

"played his hand and often lost. He arrived too late to prevent a lynching. He amputated a dying man's leg and lost the patient anyway. He saved a girl from brutal rapists then found himself unable to offer her what she needed to stop her from moving into ... life as a prostitute." [15]

Some listeners, such as Dunning, argue the radio version was more realistic. Episodes were aimed at adults and featured some of the most explicit content of their time, including violent crimes, scalpings, massacres, and opium addicts. Many episodes ended on a somber note, and villains often got away with their crimes.

Nonetheless, due to the subtle scripts and outstanding ensemble cast, over the years, the program evolved into a warm, often humorous celebration of human nature. Despite Gunsmoke's realism in some areas, the show took liberties with accuracy in others. The program was set after the arrival of the railroad in Dodge City (1872) and Kansas had been a state since 1861. A U.S. Marshal (actually a deputy marshal, only the senior officer in the district holds the title "marshal") would not be based in Dodge City and would not be involved in local law enforcement.

Apart from the doleful tone, Gunsmoke was distinct from other radio Westerns, as the dialogue was often slow and halting, and due to the outstanding sound effects, listeners had a nearly palpable sense of the prairie where the show was set. The effects were subtle but multilayered, giving the show a spacious feel. John Dunning wrote, "The listener heard extraneous dialogue in the background, just above the muted shouts of kids playing in an alley. He heard noises from the next block, too, where the inevitable dog was barking." [16]

Gunsmoke was also unique from other Westerns in that it was unsponsored in the first few years of production. The program got its support from CBS in the first two years. Series producers felt that if the show were sponsored, they would have to "clean the show up". [17] The producers wanted to find a sponsor that would allow them to keep the show the way it was. [18]

Talk of adapting Gunsmoke to television

Not long after the radio show began, talk began of adapting it to television. Privately, Macdonnell had a guarded interest in taking the show to television, but publicly, he declared, "our show is perfect for radio," and he feared, as Dunning writes, "Gunsmoke confined by a picture could not possibly be as authentic or attentive to detail." "In the end", wrote Dunning, "CBS simply took it away from Macdonnell and began preparing for the television version." [16]

Conrad and the others were given auditions, but they were little more than token efforts—especially in Conrad's case, due to his obesity. However, Meston was kept as the main writer. In the early years, a majority of the TV episodes were adapted from the radio scripts, often using identical scenes and dialogue. Dunning wrote, "That radio fans considered the TV show a sham and its players impostors should surprise no one. That the TV show was not a sham is due in no small part to the continued strength of Meston's scripts." [15]

Macdonnell and Meston continued the radio version of Gunsmoke until 1961, making it one of the most enduring vintage radio dramas.

Conrad directed two television episodes, in 1963 and 1971, while McNear appeared on six, playing characters other than Doc, including three times as storekeeper Howard Rudd.

Television series (1955–1975)

Gunsmoke (title screen).jpg
Based onGunsmoke created by
John Meston
Norman Macdonnell
Developed by Charles Marquis Warren
Theme music composer Rex Koury
Glenn Spencer
Country of originUnited States
No. of seasons6 (Marshal Dillon, syndication retitling of half-hour episodes)
14 (Gunsmoke),
20 (total seasons)
No. of episodes233 (Marshal Dillon, syndication retitling of half-hour episodes), 402 (Gunsmoke)
635 (total episodes) (list of episodes)
Running time26 minutes (1955–1961),
50 minutes (1961–1975)
Production companies CBS Productions
Filmaster Productions
Arness and Company
The Arness Production Company
Distributor CBS Television Distribution
Original network CBS
Picture format Black and white (1955–1966)
Color (1966–1975)
Original releaseSeptember 10, 1955 (1955-09-10) 
March 31, 1975 (1975-03-31)

The TV series ran from September 10, 1955, to March 31, 1975, on CBS, with 635 total episodes. It was the second Western television series written for adults, [19] premiering on September 10, 1955, four days after The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp . [20] [21] The first 12 seasons aired Saturdays at 10 pm, seasons 13 through 16 aired Mondays at 7:30 pm, and the last four seasons aired Mondays at 8 pm. During its second season in 1956, the program joined the list of the top-10 television programs broadcast in the United States. It quickly moved to number one and stayed there until 1961. It remained among the top-20 programs until 1964. [22]

Longevity records

The television series was the longest-running, primetime, live-action series on television (tied with Law & Order with 20 seasons each) until September 2019, when the 21st-season premiere of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit surpassed Gunsmoke. [23] However, Gunsmoke remains the longest-running, primetime, live-action series of the 20th century. As of 2017, it had the highest number of scripted episodes for any U.S. primetime, commercial, live-action television series. On April 29, 2018, The Simpsons surpassed Gunsmoke for the most scripted episodes. [24] Some TV fans[ who? ] question its position as having the longest run. Some foreign-made programs, i.e. produced outside the U.S., have been broadcast in the U.S. and contend for the position as the longest-running series. [notes 1] As of 2016, Gunsmoke was rated fourth globally, after Doctor Who (1963–present), Taggart (1983–2010), [25] and The Bill (1984–2010).

Gunsmoke was the last fictional primetime show that debuted in the 1950s to leave the air, and was so durable that only three shows from the 1960s lasted past Gunsmoke's final season in 1974–75.

Character longevity

James Arness and Milburn Stone portrayed their Gunsmoke characters for 20 consecutive years, a feat later matched by Kelsey Grammer as the character Frasier Crane, but over two half-hour sitcoms ( Cheers and Frasier ). [26] This feat would be surpassed by Mariska Hargitay, who has portrayed the character Olivia Benson on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit for over 21 consecutive years to date. [27] However, Gunsmoke had 635 episodes and SVU only 494, so far. George Walsh, the announcer for Gunsmoke, began in 1952 on radio's Gunsmoke and continued until television's Gunsmoke was cancelled in 1975. [28]

Transition to TV from radio

When Gunsmoke was adapted for television in 1955, in spite of a campaign to persuade the network, the network was not interested in bringing either Conrad or his radio costars to the television medium. Conrad's weight was rumored to be a deciding factor. Denver Pyle was also considered for the role, as was Raymond Burr, who was ultimately also seen as too heavy for the part. Charles Warren, television Gunsmoke's first director, said, "His voice was fine, but he was too big. When he stood up, his chair stood with him." [29] It has long been rumored that John Wayne was offered the role of Matt Dillon; according to Dennis Weaver's comments on the 50th Anniversary DVD, disc one, episode "Hack Prine", John Wayne was never even considered for the role; to have done so would have been preposterous, since Wayne was a top movie leading man. The belief that Wayne was asked to star is disputed by Warren. Although he agrees Wayne encouraged Arness to take the role, Warren says, "I hired Jim Arness on the strength of a picture he's done for me ... I never thought for a moment of offering it to Wayne." [28]

According to Thomas "Duke" Miller, a TV/movie/celebrity expert, this story was told to him by legendary actor James Stewart:

"Jimmy said he was in the office with Charles Warren when Mr. Wayne came in. Mr. Warren asked Wayne if he knew James Arness, and Mr. Wayne said yes. Mr. Warren told Mr. Wayne about the transition of the show from radio to TV, and Mr. Wayne readily agreed that James Arness would be a terrific choice for the part of Matt Dillon. I have no reason to doubt the story, because Jimmy absolutely knew everybody."

In the end, the primary roles were all recast, with Arness taking the lead role of Marshal Matt Dillon (on the recommendation of Wayne, who also introduced the pilot), Dennis Weaver playing Chester Goode, Milburn Stone being cast as Dr. G. "Doc" Adams (later Galen "Doc" Adams), and Amanda Blake taking on the role of Miss Kitty Russell. Macdonnell became the associate producer of the TV show and later the producer. Meston was named head writer.

Good evening. My name's Wayne. Some of you may have seen me before; I hope so. I've been kicking around Hollywood a long time. I've made a lot of pictures out here, all kinds, and some of them have been Westerns. And that's what I'm here to tell you about tonight: a Western—a new television show called Gunsmoke. No, I'm not in it. I wish I were, though, because I think it's the best thing of its kind that's come along, and I hope you'll agree with me; it's honest, it's adult, it's realistic. When I first heard about the show Gunsmoke, I knew there was only one man to play in it: James Arness. He's a young fellow, and maybe new to some of you, but I've worked with him and I predict he'll be a big star, so you might as well get used to him, like you've had to get used to me! And now I'm proud to present my friend Jim Arness in Gunsmoke.

John Wayne, first Gunsmoke TV episode, "Matt Gets It". [30]

Additional casting

Ken Curtis as Festus and Arness as Dillon, 1968 Ken Curtis James Arness Gunsmoke 1968.JPG
Ken Curtis as Festus and Arness as Dillon, 1968

Chester and Festus Haggen are perhaps Dillon's most recognizable sidekicks, though others became acting deputies for 2+12- to 7+12-year stints: Quint Asper (Burt Reynolds) (1962–65), Thad Greenwood (Roger Ewing) (1966–68), and Newly O'Brien (Buck Taylor) (1967–75), who served as both back-up deputy and doctor-in-training, having some studies in medicine through his uncle, which then continued under Doc Adams.

In 1962, Burt Reynolds was added to the show's lineup, as the "halfbreed" blacksmith Quint Asper, and performed that role from the year just before the departure of Chester Goode and to just after the appearance of Festus Haggen. Three of the actors, who played Dodge deputies, Ken Curtis, Roger Ewing, and Buck Taylor, had previous guest roles. Curtis, a big band and Western singer (Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, Shep Fields Band, Sons of the Pioneers), had five previous guest roles, including one in 1963 as a shady ladies' man named Kyle Kelly ("Lover Boy," season 9, show two [episode 307]). [31]

Curtis first appeared in the 1959 episode "Jayhawkers" (season four, episode 21 [episode 138]), wherein he played Phil Jacks, a Texas cowboy, with Jack Elam as his boss during a cattle drive from Texas. The second was another 1959 episode titled "Change of Heart" (season four, episode 32 [episode 149]), where he played Brisco. The third appearance is the 1960 episode "The Ex-Urbanites" (season five, episode 30 [episode 186]), where he plays Jesse. He also had a small role as an Indian named Scout in the episode "Speak Me Fair" (season five, episode 34 [episode 190]) in 1960. Curtis was reared in Las Animas, Colorado, and for a time was a son-in-law of director John Ford. [32]

In 1963, Weaver left the series to pursue a broader acting career in TV series and films. In 1964, Curtis was signed as a regular to play the stubbornly illiterate hillbilly Festus Haggen. The character, heretofore a comic feature, came to town in a 1962 episode titled "Us Haggens" to avenge the death of his twin brother Fergus, and decided to stay in Dodge when the deed was done. Initially on the fringes of Dodge society, Festus was slowly phased in as a reliable sidekick/part-time deputy to Matt Dillon when Reynolds left in 1965. In the episode "Alias Festus Haggen", he is mistaken for a robber and killer, whom he has to expose, to free himself (both parts played by Curtis). In a comic relief episode, "Mad Dog", another case of mistaken identity forces Festus to fight three sons of a man killed by his cousin. As a side note, only one episode has all three actors in it playing their respective roles, in the 1964 episode titled "Prairie Wolfer" (season 9, episode 16 [episode 321]), with Dennis Weaver as Chester, Burt Reynolds as Quint, and Ken Curtis as Festus. [33] The 1964 episode titled "Once a Haggen" (season 9, episode 18 [episode 323]) is the second of only two occasions in which Chester and Festus appear in the same episode. [34]

When Milburn Stone left the series for heart bypass surgery in 1971, Pat Hingle played his temporary replacement, Dr. John Chapman, for several episodes. His presence was at first roundly resisted by Festus, a bickersome but close friend of Doc Adams's.

Well-known actors played "visiting characters". Jeanette Nolan played Dirty Sally in several episodes.

Character back stories

Clockwise from top: Ken Curtis (Festus), James Arness (Matt), Amanda Blake (Kitty), and Milburn Stone (Doc) in 1968 Gunsmoke main cast 1967.JPG
Clockwise from top: Ken Curtis (Festus), James Arness (Matt), Amanda Blake (Kitty), and Milburn Stone (Doc) in 1968

The back stories of some of the main characters were largely left to the imagination of the viewer. Matt Dillon spent his early years in foster care, knew the Bible, was a wayward, brawling cowboy, and was later mentored by a caring lawman. In a few episodes, he mentions having spent some time in the army. Kitty Russell was born in New Orleans and reared by a flashy foster mother (who once visited Dodge), although her father visited Dodge on one occasion and wished to have her return to New Orleans. Barkeep Sam is said to be married, but no wife is ever seen. (In the episode "Tafton", he is seen side by side with a woman in a church singing.)

Quint Asper's white father was killed by white scavengers. Thad Greenwood's father, a storekeeper, was harassed to death by a trio of loathsome ne'er-do-well thieves. Chester Goode is known to be one of many brothers raised by an aunt and uncle, and on one occasion, he mentions his mother; he refers to past service in the cavalry and years as a cattle driver in Texas. The cause of Chester's stiff right leg is never given, but it is shown as his own leg and not a prosthesis. No direct reference to his disability is ever made in the script, although some oblique moments paint the free-spirited, comic deputy with a darker tone. Newly O'Brien was named after a physician uncle who ignited his interest in medicine.

While Dillon and Miss Kitty clearly have a close personal relationship, the two never marry. In a July 2, 2002, Associated Press interview with Bob Thomas, Arness explained, "If they were man and wife, it would make a lot of difference. The people upstairs decided it was better to leave the show as it was, which I totally agreed with." In the episode "Waste", featuring Johnny Whitaker as a boy with a prostitute mother, her madam questions Dillon as to why the law overlooks Miss Kitty's enterprise. Apparently, bordellos could exist "at the law's discretion," (meaning the marshal's). As a historical matter, prior to the First World War, few laws criminalized prostitution in the United States. [35] The nearest that Matt and Miss Kitty have to a romantic evening together is when they try to have dinner over the Long Branch Saloon ("A Quiet Day In Dodge", 1973). Unfortunately, Marshal Dillon has been going over 30 hours without sleep, and when Kitty is distracted, he falls soundly asleep. [36] The nearest Miss Kitty gets to being married is when she has to pretend to be married to Cavalry Sgt. Holly to save her from a robber gang ("Sergeant Holly", 1970). By the time of the "Gold Train" episode, Kitty remembers when she first met Matt – 17 years before. Miss Kitty was written out in 1974. The actress said she was tired and quit to protect the cast and crew she loved so much. When Blake decided not to return for the show's 20th (and final) season, the character was said to have returned to New Orleans. She was replaced by the hoarse-voiced, matronly actress Fran Ryan (known to many as the second Doris Ziffel on CBS's Green Acres .)

For over a decade on television, a sign hung over Doc's office that read "Dr. G. Adams". Milburn Stone was given free rein to choose the character's first name. The actor chose the name of the ancient Greek physician and medical researcher Galen. He is first referred to in this manner by Theodore Bikel as "Martin Kellums" in the season-10 episode, "Song for Dying", aired February 13, 1965. [37]

Radio and TV character differences

Dennis Weaver and Mariette Hartley, 1962 Dennis Weaver Mariette Hartley Gunsmoke 1962.JPG
Dennis Weaver and Mariette Hartley, 1962

Differences were noted between the characters on the radio and TV versions of Gunsmoke. In the radio series, Doc was acerbic, somewhat mercenary, and borderline alcoholic, at least in the program's early years. On radio's Gunsmoke, Doc Adams's real name was Dr. Calvin Moore. [38] He came west and changed his name to escape a charge of murder. The television Doc, though still crusty, was in many ways softer and warmer.

Nothing in the radio series suggested that Chester Proudfoot was disabled; this merely visual feature was added to the Chester Goode character on television because of actor Dennis Weaver's athletic build, to emphasize Chester's role as a follower and not an independent agent.[ citation needed ]

Miss Kitty, who after the radio series ended, was said by some to have engaged in prostitution, began in that role in the television series, working in the Long Branch Saloon. In an earlier 1956 episode ("How to Cure a Friend", season two, episode seven), the owner of the Long Branch was named Bill Pence (a role played by at least three different actors over the years). A later episode ("Daddy O", season two, episode 36, filmed in 1956 and aired in 1957) begins with Chester pointing out to Matt (who had been out of town) a new sign under the Long Branch Saloon sign saying "Russell & Pence, Proprietors". In that same episode, John Dehner portrayed a dubious New Orleans businessman claiming to be Kitty's father, who tried to talk her into selling her half interest in the Long Branch and returning to New Orleans with him as a partner in his alleged freight business. [39]

In another 1956 episode (involving a new saloon girl named "Rena Decker", who causes four deaths by provoking men into fighting over her), Miss Kitty identifies herself as half-owner of the Long Branch with Mr. Pence (played by Judson Pratt). Subsequently, Miss Kitty transitioned to sole owner. Although early film episodes showed her descending from her second-floor rooms in the saloon with Matt, or showed her or one of her girls leading a cowboy up to those same rooms, these scenes disappeared later on, and viewers were guided to see Miss Kitty just as a kindhearted businesswoman.[ citation needed ]


From 1955 to 1961, Gunsmoke was a half-hour show (retitled Marshal Dillon in syndication). It then went to an hour-long format. The series was retitled Gun Law in the UK. The Marshal Dillon syndicated reruns of half-hour episodes lasted from 1961 until 1964 on CBS, originally on Tuesday nights within its time in reruns.


Gunsmoke was TV's number-one-ranked show from 1957 to 1961 before slipping into a decline after expanding to an hour. In 1967, the show's 12th season, CBS planned to cancel the series, but widespread viewer reaction (including a mention in Congress and the behind-the-scenes pressure from Babe Paley, the wife of CBS's longtime president William S. Paley) prevented its demise. On the Biography Channel's Behind The Scenes: Gilligan's Island (2002), Gilligan's Island producer Sherwood Schwartz states that Babe pressured her husband not to cancel Gunsmoke in 1967, so the network cut Gilligan's Island, instead. The show continued in its new time slot at 8 pm on Mondays. This scheduling move led to a spike in ratings that had it once again rally to the top 10 in the Nielsen ratings, which again saved the series when CBS purged most of its rural content in 1971. The series remained in the top 10 until the 1973–74 television season. [40] In September 1975, despite still ranking among the top-30 programs in the ratings, Gunsmoke was cancelled after a 20-year run; it was replaced by Mary Tyler Moore spin-offs Rhoda and Phyllis (though Rhoda actually debuted while Gunsmoke was still airing first-run). Thirty TV Westerns came and went during its 20-year tenure, and Gunsmoke was the sole survivor, with Alias Smith and Jones and Bonanza both leaving the airwaves 2+12 years earlier in January 1973.

Arness and Stone remained with the show for its entire run, though Stone missed seven episodes in 1971 due to illness.

The entire cast was stunned by the cancellation, as they were unaware that CBS was considering it. According to Arness, "We didn't do a final, wrap-up show. We finished the 20th year, we all expected to go on for another season, or two or three. The (network) never told anybody they were thinking of cancelling." The cast and crew read the news in the trade papers. [41] This seemed to have been a habit of CBS. Three other popular shows, Gilligan's Island, Lost in Space, and The Incredible Hulk, met the same fate, in the same, abrupt manner.

TV movies

In 1987, CBS commissioned a reunion movie titled Gunsmoke: Return to Dodge . James Arness and Amanda Blake returned in their iconic roles of Matt Dillon and Miss Kitty, with Fran Ryan returning in her role as Kitty's friend/saloon-owner Hannah and Buck Taylor returning as Newly O'Brian. Doc Adams and Festus Haggen were not featured in the film. Milburn Stone had died 7 years earlier in 1980 and the role of Doc was not recast. Ken Curtis, meanwhile, balked at the salary offer he received, and said that he should be paid based on Festus' importance in the character hierarchy. The screenwriters responded to Curtis' absence by making Newly the new Dodge City marshal. The film, shot in Alberta, featured a now-retired Marshal Dillon being attacked, and a vengeful former rival returning to Dodge City to entrap him.

In 1990, the second telefilm, Gunsmoke: The Last Apache, premiered. Since Amanda Blake had died the year before, the writers decided to revisit a 1973 episode for the movie. The episode was based on "Matt's Love Story", which was noted for the marshal's first overnight visit to a female's lodgings.[ citation needed ] In the episode, Matt loses his memory and his heart during a brief liaison with "Mike" Yardner (played by Michael Learned). [notes 2] In the film, Learned returns as Mike, who reveals to Marshal Dillon that he is the father of their daughter, [42] Beth (played by Amy Stock-Poynton) and asks him for help in saving her. Dodge City was never again seen.

Other films included Gunsmoke: To the Last Man (1992), Gunsmoke: The Long Ride (1993), and Gunsmoke: One Man's Justice (1994). Arness appeared in all five films.


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Tied with
First airedLast aired
1 39September 10, 1955 (1955-09-10)August 25, 1956 (1956-08-25)N/AN/AN/AN/A
2 39September 8, 1956 (1956-09-08)June 29, 1957 (1957-06-29)732.712.72 [43] I've Got a Secret
3 39September 14, 1957 (1957-09-14)June 7, 1958 (1958-06-07)143.118.06 [44] N/A
4 39September 13, 1958 (1958-09-13)June 13, 1959 (1959-06-13)139.617.40 [45] N/A
5 39September 5, 1959 (1959-09-05)June 11, 1960 (1960-06-11)140.318.43 [46] N/A
6 38September 3, 1960 (1960-09-03)June 17, 1961 (1961-06-17)137.317.60 [47] N/A
7 34September 30, 1961 (1961-09-30)May 26, 1962 (1962-05-26)328.313.74 [48] N/A
8 38September 15, 1962 (1962-09-15)June 1, 1963 (1963-06-01)1027.013.58 [49] N/A
9 36September 28, 1963 (1963-09-28)June 6, 1964 (1964-06-06)2023.512.12 [50] N/A
10 36September 26, 1964 (1964-09-26)May 29, 1965 (1965-05-29)2722.611.91 [51] N/A
11 32September 18, 1965 (1965-09-18)May 7, 1966 (1966-05-07)3021.311.47 [52] N/A
12 29September 17, 1966 (1966-09-17)April 15, 1967 (1967-04-15)N/AN/AN/ATBA
13 25September 11, 1967 (1967-09-11)March 4, 1968 (1968-03-04)425.514.45 [53] Family Affair
14 26September 23, 1968 (1968-09-23)March 24, 1969 (1969-03-24)624.914.50 [54] N/A
15 26September 22, 1969 (1969-09-22)March 23, 1970 (1970-03-23)225.915.15 [55] N/A
16 24September 14, 1970 (1970-09-14)March 8, 1971 (1971-03-08)525.515.32 [56] N/A
17 24September 13, 1971 (1971-09-13)March 13, 1972 (1972-03-13)426.016.14 [57] N/A
18 24September 11, 1972 (1972-09-11)March 5, 1973 (1973-03-05)723.615.29 [58] The Mary Tyler Moore Show
19 24September 10, 1973 (1973-09-10)April 1, 1974 (1974-04-01)1522.114.63 [59] N/A
20 24September 9, 1974 (1974-09-09)March 31, 1975 (1975-03-31)2820.514.04 [60] N/A
Television movies September 26, 1987 (1987-09-26)February 10, 1994 (1994-02-10)N/AN/AN/AN/A

Primetime Emmy Award wins and nominations

1955 (presented March 17, 1956)

  • Best Action or Adventure Series – nominated (winner: Disneyland )

1956 (presented March 16, 1957)

1957 (presented April 15, 1958)

  • Best Continuing Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Dramatic or Comedy Series: James Arness – nominated (winner: Robert Young for Father Knows Best)
  • Best Continuing Supporting Performance by an Actor in a Dramatic or Comedy Series: Dennis Weaver – nominated (winner: Carl Reiner for Caesar's Hour )
  • Best Dramatic Series with Continuing Characters won
  • Best Editing of a Film for Television: Mike Pozen for "How to Kill a Woman" – won
  • Best Teleplay Writing (Half-Hour or Less): John Meston for "Born to Hang" – nominated (winner: Paul Monash for Schlitz Playhouse of Stars – "The Lonely Wizard")

1958 (presented May 6, 1959)

  • Best Actor in a Leading Role (Continuing Character) in a Dramatic Series: James Arness – nominated (winner: Raymond Burr for Perry Mason )
  • Best Supporting Actor (Continuing Character) in a Dramatic Series: Dennis Weaver – won
  • Best Supporting Actress (Continuing Character) in a Dramatic Series: Amanda Blake – nominated (winner: Barbara Hale for Perry Mason)
  • Best Western Series – nominated (winner: Maverick )

1965–1966 (presented May 22, 1966)

  • Individual Achievements in Music - Composition: Morton Stevens for "Seven Hours to Dawn" – nominated (winner: Laurence Rosenthal for Michelangelo: The Last Giant)

1967–1968 (presented May 19, 1968)

  • Outstanding Achievement in Musical Composition: Morton Stevens for "Major Glory" (winner: Earle Hagen for I Spy – "Laya")
  • Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Drama: Milburn Stone – won

1969–1970 (presented by June 7, 1970)

  • Outstanding Achievement in Film Sound Editing: Norman Karlin and Richard E. Raderman – won (tied with Alex Bamattre, Michael Colgan, Douglas H. Grindstaff, Joe Kavigan, Bill Lee, and Josef E. Von Stroheim for ABC Movie of the Week: The Immortal)


All 635 episodes of the television series, and almost all 480 episodes of the radio show, still exist.

In syndication, the entire 20-year run of Gunsmoke is separated into three packages by CBS Television Distribution:

Home media

In 2006, as part of Gunsmoke's 50th anniversary on TV, certain selected episodes were released on DVD in three different box sets. Twelve episodes, from 1955 to 1964, were selected for the Gunsmoke: Volume I box set, and another twelve episodes, from 1964 to 1975, were selected for the Gunsmoke: Volume II box set. Both sets are also available as a combined single "Gift Box Set". A third unique DVD box set, known as Gunsmoke: The Directors Collection, was also released with 10 selected episodes from certain seasons throughout the series' 20-year history. All of these box sets are available on Region 1 DVD from Paramount Home Entertainment and CBS DVD.

Additionally, Paramount Home Entertainment and CBS DVD have released the series in its entirety on DVD for 13 years between 2007 and 2020 in Region 1 (all of the seasons except for season one and seasons sixteen through twenty were split into two volumes). A complete series box set was released on May 5, 2020. All DVDs have been released with English audio and close captioning from season 1 to 5 and starting season 6 English SDH.

DVD releases — Seasons 1–20
DVD NameEp #Release Date
The First Season39July 17, 2007
The Second Season, Volume 120January 8, 2008
The Second Season, Volume 219May 27, 2008
The Third Season, Volume 119December 9, 2008
The Third Season, Volume 220May 26, 2009
The Fourth Season, Volume 119October 5, 2010
The Fourth Season, Volume 220December 14, 2010
The Fifth Season, Volume 120October 11, 2011
The Fifth Season, Volume 219December 13, 2011
The Sixth Season, Volume 119August 7, 2012
The Sixth Season, Volume 219October 16, 2012
The Seventh Season, Volume 117December 11, 2012
The Seventh Season, Volume 217February 5, 2013
The Eighth Season, Volume 119May 7, 2013
The Eighth Season, Volume 219May 7, 2013
The Ninth Season, Volume 118August 6, 2013
The Ninth Season, Volume 218August 6, 2013
DVD NameEp #Release Date
The Tenth Season, Volume 118August 12, 2014
The Tenth Season, Volume 218August 12, 2014
The Eleventh Season, Volume 116December 2, 2014
The Eleventh Season, Volume 216December 2, 2014
The Twelfth Season, Volume 115September 20, 2016
The Twelfth Season, Volume 214September 20, 2016
The Thirteenth Season, Volume 115May 22, 2018
The Thirteenth Season, Volume 210May 22, 2018
The Fourteenth Season, Volume 115February 5, 2019
The Fourteenth Season, Volume 211February 5, 2019
The Fifteenth Season, Volume 115October 1, 2019
The Fifteenth Season, Volume 211October 1, 2019
The Sixteenth Season24December 10, 2019
The Seventeenth Season24December 10, 2019
The Eighteenth Season24February 11, 2020
The Nineteenth Season24February 11, 2020
The Final Season24May 5, 2020

Regular cast; major characters


1963 cast with Burt Reynolds Gunsmoke cast 1963.JPG
1963 cast with Burt Reynolds



Preceding the series by nearly 2 years was a 1953 movie also titled Gunsmoke. It has been confused in the past as the basis for the series but has been proven since to have no connection with the show, or radio series, with the exception that all are westerns.

Note: The 1959 Copyright in Roman Numerals appears to be inaccurate. It shows "MCMLVIX" but should have been written as "MCMLIX"

Notable guest stars

(partial list, alphabetical):
Amanda Blake and Jack Albertson, 1969. Amanda Blake Jack Albertson Gunsmoke 1969.JPG
Amanda Blake and Jack Albertson, 1969.
Guest star Bette Davis, 1966. James Arness Amanda Blake Bette Davis Gunsmoke 1966.JPG
Guest star Bette Davis, 1966.
Guest stars Anne Helm and John Drew Barrymore, 1964. Anne Helm John Drew Barrymore 1964.JPG
Guest stars Anne Helm and John Drew Barrymore, 1964.
Arness as Dillon, 1955 James Arness Matt Dillon 1955.jpg
Arness as Dillon, 1955
Marshall Kent and Ben Gage in famous Maverick spoof "Gun-Shy" (1958) Ben Gage Kent Marshall Maverick 1958.jpg
Marshall Kent and Ben Gage in famous Maverick spoof "Gun-Shy" (1958)


Gunsmoke had one spin-off series, Dirty Sally , a semicomedy starring Jeanette Nolan as an old woman and Dack Rambo as a young gunfighter, leaving Dodge City for California to pan for gold. The program lasted 13 weeks and aired in the first half of 1974, a year before Gunsmoke ended.

Notable directors


The Gunsmoke radio theme song and later TV theme was titled "Old Trails", also known as "Boothill". The Gunsmoke theme was composed by Rex Koury. [80] The original radio version was conducted by Koury. The TV version was thought to have been first conducted by CBS west coast music director Lud Gluskin. The lyrics of the theme, never aired on the radio or television show, were recorded and released by Tex Ritter in 1955. Ritter was backed on that Capitol record by Rex Koury and the radio Gunsmoke orchestra. [81] William Lava composed the original theme music for television, as noted in the program credits.

Other notable composers included:


The Gunsmoke brand was used to endorse numerous products, from cottage cheese [82] to cigarettes.

The Heartland toy company included an 8" (1/9th scale) plastic Matt Dillion figure as well as his horse "Buck" (aka "Old Faithful Buck") in their line of famous TV cowboys and their horses during the 1950s.

Lowell Toy Manufacturing Corporation ("It's a Lowell Game") issued Gunsmoke as their game No. 822. [83] Other products include Gunsmoke puzzles, [84]

In 1985, Capcom released a video game for the arcade (and its corresponding game for the NES in 1988) with a Western theme, called Gun.Smoke . Other than the Western theme, the show and game have no relationship whatsoever. [85]



Independent E-book


Reruns and syndication

The program currently airs on three major venues: TV Land, which has carried the show since its inception in 1996, Encore Westerns, and Weigel Broadcasting's MeTV digital subchannel network. Individual stations such as KFWD in Dallas also carry the series in their markets. It has also been shown on satellite channel CBS Action in the UK, Ireland and Poland. The series also appears intermittently on MeTV's themed sister network Decades, which CBS holds a partial interest in; it appears on the schedule depending on the theme and year a particular day has.


  1. Because the show was a "primetime" series, the competition does not include such long-lived shows as Captain Kangaroo (1955–84) and many daytime serials. As a "commercial" series, it cannot be compared with shows such as the PBS program Mister Rogers' Neighborhood (1966–2001). As "live-action" series, it is not compared against programs such as the adult animated series The Simpsons (1989–), whose voice-over actors age off-screen. Some foreign countries have broadcast series over a longer duration, but these programs have employed an array of actors in their principal lead roles.
  2. The character and the actor are both women.

Related Research Articles

Dennis Weaver American actor

William Dennis Weaver was an American actor and former president of the Screen Actors Guild, best known for his work in television and films from the early 1950s until just before his death in 2006. Weaver's two most famous roles were as Marshal Matt Dillon's trusty partner Chester Goode/Proudfoot on the CBS western Gunsmoke and as Deputy Marshal Sam McCloud on the NBC police drama McCloud. He starred in the 1971 television film Duel, the first film of director Steven Spielberg. He is also remembered for his role as the twitchy motel attendant in Orson Welles's film Touch of Evil (1958).

William Conrad American actor and film director (1920–1994)

William Conrad was an American actor, producer, and director whose entertainment career spanned five decades in radio, film, and television, peaking in popularity when he starred in the detective series Cannon.

Ken Curtis American actor and singer (1916–1991)

Ken Curtis was an American singer and actor best known for his role as Festus Haggen on the CBS western television series Gunsmoke. Although he appeared on Gunsmoke earlier in other roles, he was first cast as Festus in season 8 episode 13, December 8, 1962 "Us Haggens." His next appearance was Season 9, episode 2, October 5, 1963 as Kyle Kelly, in "Lover Boy." Curtis joined the cast of Gunsmoke permanently as Festus in "Prairie Wolfer," season 9 episode 16, January 18, 1964.

James Arness American actor (1923–2011)

James Arness was an American actor, best known for portraying Marshal Matt Dillon for 20 years in the CBS television series Gunsmoke. Arness has the distinction of having played the role of Dillon in five decades: 1955 to 1975 in the weekly series, then in Gunsmoke: Return to Dodge (1987) and four more made-for-television Gunsmoke films in the 1990s. In Europe, Arness reached cult status for his role as Zeb Macahan in the Western series How the West Was Won. He was the older brother of actor Peter Graves.

Milburn Stone American actor

Hugh Milburn Stone was an American actor, best known for his role as "Doc" on the CBS Western series Gunsmoke.

Matt Dillon (<i>Gunsmoke</i>) Fictional radio/TV character

Matt Dillon is a fictional character featured on both the radio and television versions of Gunsmoke. He serves as the U.S. Marshal of Dodge City, Kansas, who works to preserve law and order in the western frontier of the 1870s. The character was created by writer John Meston, who envisioned him as a man "...whose hair is probably red, if he's got any left. He'd be handsomer than he is if he had better manners but life and his enemies have left him looking a little beat up, and I suppose having seen his mother trying to take a bath in a wooden washtub without fully undressing left his soul a little warped. Anyway, there'd have to be something wrong with him or he wouldn't have hired on as a United States Marshal in the heyday of Dodge City, Kansas." Notwithstanding Meston's original vision, the character evolved considerably during Gunsmoke's nine-year run on CBS Radio and its 20-year run on CBS Television.

Parley Baer American actor

Parley Edward Baer was an American actor in radio and later in television and film. Despite dozens of appearances in television series and theatrical films, he remains best known as the original "Chester" in the radio version of Gunsmoke, and as the Mayor of Mayberry in The Andy Griffith Show.

John Dehner American actor (1915–1992)

John Dehner was an American actor and animator. He had a long and prolific career in radio, television, and film, often as droll villains. Between 1940 and 1989, he appeared in over 260 films, television series, and made-for-television movies.

John Meston was an American scriptwriter best known for co-creating with producer Norman Macdonnell the long-running Western series Gunsmoke. He developed storylines and wrote radio scripts and teleplays for 379 episodes for the series, which was first broadcast on CBS Radio in 1952, and then adapted to the "small screen", as well, airing on television from 1955 to 1975. In addition to his work on Gunsmoke, Meston also served as a writer and editorial supervisor for other radio programs such as Escape, Suspense, Lux Radio Theater, and Fort Laramie; and in the 1970s, he wrote several episodes for two other television series, Little House on the Prairie and Hec Ramsey.

Norman Scarth Macdonnell was an American producer, director, and scriptwriter for radio, television, and feature films. He is best known for co-creating with writer John Meston the Western series Gunsmoke, which was broadcast on CBS Radio from 1952 to 1961, and on television from 1955 to 1975.

Gerald S. OLoughlin American actor

Gerald Stuart O'Loughlin Jr. was an American television, stage, and film actor and director who was primarily known for playing tough-talking and rough-looking characters. He is best known for Ed Ryker on The Rookies (1972-1976).

Gunsmoke: The Long Ride is a 1993 American made-for-television Western film based on the popular series Gunsmoke, in which the main character, Matt Dillon is again played by James Arness.

Gunsmoke: Return to Dodge is the first made-for-television Western film based on the 20-year (1955–1975) television version of Gunsmoke starring James Arness. Although it is supposed to be set in the wilds of Kansas, it was filmed in Alberta, Canada.

The Long Branch Variety Show is a western saloon show presented in the Long Branch Saloon located at Boot Hill Museum, a non-profit entertainment and museum theme park, in Dodge City, Kansas.

Robert C. Totten was an American television director, writer, and actor, best known for his work on the CBS series Gunsmoke. He directed twenty-seven Gunsmoke episodes between 1966 and 1971 and guest starred in eight segments between 1967 and 1973. He also directed eight episodes of NBC's Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color between 1969 and 1975.

Marian Clark was an American scriptwriter for radio and television series during the 1950s and early 1960s, most notably for the long-running, iconic Western series Gunsmoke, which aired on CBS Radio from 1952 to 1961 and on CBS Television for two decades. Clark ranks among the most prolific writers in the history of Gunsmoke; and prior to her work on that series, she was also one of the first women in American radio to be employed full time as a news writer for a major regional station and affiliate of a national broadcasting network.

Leslie Marcellus Crutchfield was an American scriptwriter for radio and television series between the late 1940s and mid-1960s, most notably for the Western series Gunsmoke, which aired on CBS Radio from 1952 to 1961 and on CBS Television from 1955 to 1975. Crutchfield is credited with writing a total of 138 radio and television stories and scripts for Gunsmoke, a body of work that is second only to the number of episodes written by John Meston, the series' co-creator. While Gunsmoke is the most prominent showcase for Crutchfield's writing talents, he also composed original stories and adapted works by other authors for the CBS radio anthology series Escape as well as other weekly radio and television series and at least two feature films.


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Further reading